“A Child Among Us” Considering Consecrated Life
My grandnephew Wes (Weston) was born on December 12th, 2014. Last year at Thanksgiving he was a big bump in the center of my niece-in-law, Lili. Thus, at Thanksgiving this year, he was not quite one year old, being two weeks short at an age when two weeks means something. This was his first turkey celebration with the family. He represents the first member of the new generation of Griffins, and so it would be safe to say that he gets a lot of attention. People are always trying to get him to take a solo step or say a word or solve a math problem.
He does have a multicolored walker, and so, when he pulls himself up, he can wander around erect in a way which might parody a retirement community. Always close by him are some of his things. Mr. Fox, a plush doll, holds pride of place. My grandnephew and he bunk together. I have been assured by my nephew and his wife that several other identical Mr. Fox live in a closet at home and are ready to jump into action if the original runs away.
Several of the toys have an educational value. One is a plastic table with variously shaped holes. Into these holes, plastic blocks fit snugly. But there is also a plastic hammer with which one can drive the pieces through the table. Wes loves to whale away at this table with a gusto which would make St. Joseph proud. It is good to see someone who takes pride in his work.
The point of all this is to affirm what a difference a child makes. The whole dynamic of my family gathering was changed by his presence. Often, all eyes were trained on him. There was never a time where some two or four were not watching what he was doing. All the attention did not bother him. In fact, he hardly seemed to notice our noticing. He was too committed to his own focus. He tolerated hugs and kisses but on his own terms. And we surrendered.
Having a small child among us right now gives a special flavor to the Christmas time. Last year, my niece offered the image of the expectant mother, and channeled Mary. This year, the child draws the attention in a special way and we discern the character of a holy family. At these times, it is not difficult to understand why Jesus came among us as one of us. The infancy narratives tell a tale which touches the heart as well as the soul. The love and care of a man for a woman, the needs and gifts of a child, are all familiar to us. No limits restrain the attention. The lessons of this most basic of human communities—of a Church—appear easily and gently.
When there is a child among us, we might be more careful about the language that we use, the entertainment that we watch, and the food that we eat. A child can invite us to be more intent upon the essentials. We can become less self-absorbed and more attentive to the needs of another. Jesus indicates that children can teach the adults how they should act:
“Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever receives one child such as this in my name receives me.” (Matt 18:3-5)
The utter dependence of a child upon his/her parents offers the model for every Christian before the Lord: all our dependence should rest upon our God. The infant Jesus demonstrates that truth for us in the way in which he relies upon Mary and Joseph for food and warmth and protection.
When there is a child among us, we might be more inclined to reflect upon and experience the beauty and gentleness of God. Children seem so close to God. The common connection between children and angels emerges ever so clearly in the Christmas season. The adult Jesus speaks a fascinating line about this relationship:
“See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven always look upon the face of my heavenly Father.” (Matt 18:10)
The guardian angels of children are said to have privileged access to the presence of God! How hard is that to believe or understand? These dependent and weak creatures remind us of how God wants us near.
What would happen if we looked at other situations of our world and put a child in the mix?
Some people might find it more difficult to criticize Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si’ if we paid greater attention to the effects of a hostile environment upon children. The issues of refugees and illegal immigrants would yield much less easily to simple solutions if we asked what would happen to the children. The rejection of universal health care could start people pondering if we pursued the effects of this decision on sick children.
My grandnephew has made me thoughtful and grateful and prayerful both as a granduncle and a Vincentian. The Christmas mystery and new life have become more entwined, for unto us a child is given (Isa 9:6).